January 22nd, 2012

Hobos, Youth Movements, & the Warner Bros. Archive

If the embed won’t work for you, watch Riding the Rails on the PBS website.

Welcome back, Recessionistas, I hope you all had a brilliant holiday and an entrance into 2012 worthy of Nick & Nora.  I might as well tell you that I somewhat unexpectedly received a television for Christmas (courtesy of Mama Fierce, who apparently reads the blog!  Hi Mom!), and while as of yet do not have cable, am very happy that my Golden Age viewing is no longer restricted to a laptop screen.

Over the past few months, I have watched many things, but been unbelievably lazy about committing the experiences to paper.  Hopefully I can rectify that, New Year’s Resolution style.  But in the meantime, I’d like to share with you a happy discovery I made last month:  PBS’s American Experience has a smattering of documentaries available for online viewing.  Moreover, their entire series on the 1930s is part of that offering!

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October 8th, 2011

TCM: Be Still My Heart

The Jean Arthur Comedy Collection

The Jean Arthur Comedy Collection: No, this is not a dream. This is real life!

The other day, I took a little trip to do my laundry for free visit Mama Fierce.  Aside from functioning as a de facto laundromat, her place boasts such charming amenities as FOOD and TELEVISION, both of which are practically non-existent in my flat.  Ok, the food part is sort of voluntary, since I’m a terrible cook.  But as far as TV goes, at this point the lack thereof has become something of a lifestyle choice.  There was a time when I truly couldn’t afford it, but now I rather enjoy living a cable-less existence, if only to provide me with one less distraction.

Because let’s face it, I’m distracted at the best of times.

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September 8th, 2011

History Is Made At Night (1937)

History Is Made At Night History Is Made At Night History Is Made At Night
Don’t be frightened. . .we have nothing to fear anymore. Everything now seems so little, so unimportant.

*N.B. I have the worst copy of this film in the world, hence the horrifying screen caps.

Aaaaaaaand I’m back!  Sorry for the radio silence.  I would make my excuses, but they would be just that:  excuses.  Plus, this is my blog, so I don’t have to.  Ha!  In any event, I was inspired to write about this film for two reasons:  1.)  Jean Arthur’s character is named Irene, and we were just visited by a lovely lady who was similarly christened (thanks, Mother Nature!).  2.)  Awhile back, Dana Delany tweeted about it.  At the time, I was so knocked out because I’ve never heard anyone mention this film before.  Ever. Which is a shame, because it is really a wonderful, forgotten little gem.  Obviously Dana is a woman of good taste!

Frank Borzage’s History Is Made At Night is interesting in many contexts, not the least of which is that of Jean Arthur’s career trajectory.  It was released the same year as Easy Living (1937), that imitable classic of 30s screwball comedy which we have already discussed.  Yet for Arthur, it represents an entirely different challenge, one that she rises to admirably and which enriches her resume beyond the comedic archetype that modern cinephiles so narrowly remember her by.

Arthur’s Irene Vail is the abused wife of millionaire ocean liner magnate Bruce Vail (Colin Clive).  Violently possessive, Vail is a man who sees perceived betrayal in Irene’s every move and treats her as if she were one of his ships; an empty vessel whose sole purpose is to be filled with the reflection of his desires.  When Irene finally decides to leave her husband, she runs away to Paris (cinematic city of dreams!), with Vail in dogged pursuit.  There, he concocts a scheme to forestall the divorce settlement by orchestrating a fake rendezvous between her and his valet.

Unfortunately for Vail, an interloper by the name of Paul Dumond (Charles Boyer) stumbles upon the scene, and in order to save the damsel in distress, stages a robbery undercover of which he spirits Irene away.  Outwitted, Vail kills the valet and plots to frame Paul, whom he rightly suspects is no thief, and wrongly assumes is his wife’s lover.   From this tragedy, the romantic spectacle at hand is born. . .

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March 23rd, 2011

Death and Discovery: The Work of Vivian Maier


Men Must Change or Die

This is bit out of our time period, but if you bear with me for a few paragraphs, I think you will find it relevant to our study of how the effects of American economics are represented culturally through visual form.

The photographs on this blog are from one, Vivian Maier, a nanny who spent most of her free time chronicling the streets of Chicago.  They span from the 1950s to the 1960s, and are mainly confined to cityscapes of the Windy City, although several prints from Ms Maier’s travels are included in the collection.  What is interesting about her work is its pressing concern in depicting the reality of daily life against the certitudes of financial hardship.  There is such inherent humanity and dignity about her subjects, that even the bleakest of environs is helpless to erase the voiceless captions.  “I’m here.”  “I’m real.”  “I live this every day.”

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February 28th, 2011

I Love You Again (1940)

I Love You Again I Love You Again I Love You Again
You be careful, madam, or you’ll turn my pretty head with your flattery.
I often wished I could turn your head – on a spit, over a slow fire.

Happy (VERY) Belated Valentine’s Day, dear readers! This year for Hallmark’s most important holiday, I wanted to watch something a bit off the beaten rom-com path without delving into territory too arcane. When I asked myself what elements I felt were important for an enjoyable romantic comedy experience, I came up with a pithy list of adjectives that included “sexy” and “sophisticated.” Who better personifies such a combination than that comedic dream team of William Powell and Myrna Loy? Answer: NO ONE.

So, I queued up W.S. Van Dyke’s 1940 love letter, I Love You Again, in which Powell plays a stuffy, by-the-book teetotaler named Larry Wilson. Loy is along for the ride as his suffering wife. When Larry is knocked unconscious after a decidedly screwball accident (during a pleasure cruise, one too many grape juice and gingerales has him jumping overboard to save a drunken man), he awakens with amnesia and the revelation that 10 years prior, he used to be a con man named George Carey. Apparently the only thing that Wilson and Carey have in common is their attraction to Kay Hijinks ensue.

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February 13th, 2011

Penny Wisdom (1937)


She’s decided to bake something. . .probably a cornerstone for the new town hall.

Penny Wisdom, one of “Pete Smith Specialties,” is a culinary film that won the 1937 Oscar for Best Short Subject, Color. The rather pedestrian plot goes a little something like this: Housewife Chloe Smudge (a gum-smacking Gertrude Short) is informed by her husband (Harold Minjir) that he’s bringing his boss and best client home for dinner. Unfortunately for the Smudges, Chloe’s a bit of a tyrant and the household cook has quit. On her own reconnaissance, she attempts to conjure up a multi-course meal, with disastrous results. Following a near nervous collapse, Chloe is rescued when the narrator (Pete Smith), calls his pal, Prudence Penny of the LA Examiner, to assist the little wife with her kitchenly duties.

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January 28th, 2011

Meet John Doe (1941)

Meet John Doe Meet John Doe Meet John Doe
There you are, Norton:  The People!  Try and lick that!

Two of my favorite films of all time are 1957’s A Face in the Crowd, and 1976’s Network.  In this age of 24 hour news networks, both pictures seem crushingly relevant to modern day concerns regarding the corruptive relationship between politics and mass media.   (I accidentally wrote “mess media” before I corrected myself.  Maybe I should have left the mistake in!)  Yet when the time span between the two is considered, it appears that America has been suffering from these ills much longer than many want to admit.  From this, it would appear that the halcyon days of integrity and honestly are an imagined smoke screen, or coping mechanism, for those among us (and I admit that I’m often guilty of this) searching for a point in time before “it all went wrong.”

Since neither film falls within the time construct I am studying here, let us instead look at what some may call a prequel, or even a first installment in this trinity of American political cinema:  Frank Capra’s 1941 film, Meet John Doe.  For those who are familiar with Capra’s work, the predominant themes of big government and the common man will come as no surprise.  What is startling, however, are the foreshadowed strains of soulless ambition at the expense of the common good (shades of Network’s Diana Christensen), and manipulation masquerading as entertainment, like that of A Face in the Crowd’s Lonesome Rhodes.   In this film, the all consuming, ever present threat of something bigger than the body politic, some “man behind the curtain” who pulls the strings and adheres to an agenda not of our making, looms above what the average person’s sightline  is privy to.

Meet John Doe is billed, curiously, as a comedy/drama.  But the laughs are far and few between, and those that exist germinate from a caustic sarcasm more than anything genuinely side-splitting.  Surely, for box office purposes, the safe bet is to always market a film “down”, and yet the success of Meet John Doe belies the sleight of hand used to lure audiences into the theatre.   Generally speaking, viewers are far more sophisticated than the PR machine gives them credit for.  Thus, the irony of how this film is presented in relation to what it really is, should not be lost on us as we undertake an analysis of its content.

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December 19th, 2010

Midnight (1939)

Midnight Midnight Midnight

Every Cinderella has her midnight.

First order of business: my apologies for the absence of sustainable cinematic content over the past few months. Real life, holiday life, and some other lives in between have intruded on my blogging duties. But hopefully that’s long past now, and we can get back to “business as usual.”

And on that note, there’s no business like show business, so let us commence discussion of Mitchell Leisen’s 1939 production of Midnight. Interestingly enough, this is a film that lays claim to a screenwriting credit from Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, the very same pair that brought us such gems as A Foreign Affair and Sunset Blvd. While Midnight does not even approach the brilliance of those titles, perhaps in part because it is an adaptation as opposed to an original story, there is still much to enjoy and dissect here.

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December 4th, 2010

I Wrote Your Name In My Book

You were so smart then, in your jacket & coat. . .

Not so long ago, I think I expressed the notion that as we grow older, and the means of marking our numbered days grow shorter, it’s enough to feel gratitude for small kindness on one’s birthday.  And yet, that’s never to say, that you’re not allowed to care.

Loveen, you’re always allowed to care about birthdays!

Though I’ve said it before, sometimes I think I don’t say enough. . .you are an exceptional individual.  I’ve known you so long, and since you were so young, and I can honestly say it has been an honour, a privilege, to watch you grow into the person you are today.  Your curiosity about the world, the depths to which you will bend to meet and feel it, and struggle to understand it, humbles me.

I am so grateful that you’re a part of my life.  Often times I think I haven’t deserved the kindness and encouragement you’ve shown me.  Maybe there’s truth in that, maybe there isn’t, but the bottom line is that I know its worth and am forever thankful.

So, I hope you know I mean all of this. . .and I hope you believe in the amazement that your life will surely hold for you.  Because I do.  And though this is one of the first Christmases in almost a decade where we won’t see each other (I cast the evil eye at YOU, Mr. Recession!), just remember that I’m thinking of you and remembering all of our funny little adventures together.  Celebrate this one in big shtyle (in the ball alley, preferably, with some drinkin’, shmokin’, fightin’!)

Breithlá shona dhuit, mo mhuirnín Doireann!

October 28th, 2010

Depression Era Cooking

Clara Cannucciari

Clara, cooking up a storm!

Depression Era Cooking!  Is there anyone who has yet to be introduced to the wonders of Clara Cannucciari?  Being the international super-star that she is, I find it hard to believe.  Yet, from time to time, I get a puzzled look in response to my effusive rhapsodizing over this 94 year old cook and YouTube sensation.  So today, dear readers, I would like to take the opportunity to extol the virtues of Clara!

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